Tips for First Time Pelotonia Riders

Pelotonia bells

Every Pelotonia is an amazing, emotional and uplifting event. But there’s nothing quite like your first Pelotonia.

Mine was in 2009, at the inaugural Pelotonia. “Why are there all these people out here cheering us on?” I remember asking myself early in the ride. “We’re just going on a bike ride.”

By the time we reached Athens (the 100-mile route of the first three Pelotonias ended at Ohio University), I knew the answer to my question. This wasn’t a bike ride. It was a community of determined people with one goal. I still get a little emotional when I remember the sign along the path leading into Athens: “Thank you for saving my grandfather’s life.” And, the grandfather and granddaughter were right there, together, cheering us on, big smiles on their faces. I was hooked and have ridden in every Pelotonia.

Many of you will be riding in your first Pelotonia on August 5.

To help you fully enjoy this life-changing experience, here’s some advice and a few tips...

Be bike ready: Make sure your bike is ready to roll. There’s nothing worse than realizing there’s not much air in your tires at 5 a.m. on August 5 and not knowing how to inflate a tire. And realizing you don’t even have a pump. Check list: tires, brakes, gears. There are mechanics at the start of the ride (and at each rest stop) but, trust me, there will be a long line of people in front of you whose bikes weren’t quite ready to roll.

Logistics plan: Have your logistics plan – how you will get to the start of your ride on Saturday morning - in place several days before August 5. It’s extremely stressful to try and figure out how to put a borrowed bike rack on your car at 5 a.m. on the morning of the ride.

Read the Handbook: First-time riders have so many questions. And the answers to many can be found in the Pelotonia Handbook. Even if you’re a veteran rider, read it. There’s always something new at Pelotonia, and this year’s list includes a new location for the Opening Ceremonies and the 100-mile ride start.

Wear it: Wear clothing (preferably bike attire) that you’ve worn before on a ride and know is comfortable and fits properly. It’s quite annoying, and painful, to realize, 20 miles in, that your brand-new, expensive bike shorts are rubbing you the wrong way. Ouch!

Zip it: Put your cell phone and wallet in a plastic sandwich bag, and then put them in the back pocket of your bike jersey. You’d be surprised how stinky they can get after five hours of riding without this protection. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Enjoy it: Be prepared for a wide range of emotions during your Pelotonia ride. It will start at the Opening Ceremonies and really kick in early Saturday morning as you line up to start riding. Take a few moments to take it all in and relish being part of something so special. There will be hundreds of people lining the route, cheering, holding signs, waving, ringing cowbells. And the finish of each ride is extra special. It’s OK to cry … but remember to hydrate if you do.

Drink it: Speaking of hydration … there are several rest stops along the way (every 12 or 14 miles or so). Plan to stop at each and drink, eat, stretch and use the bathrooms.

Screen it: It’s hard to remember to slather on the sunscreen at 5 a.m., when it’s dark out. So, put your sunblock out, the night before, next to your cell phone or wallet (and the plastic bag). And, re-apply during your ride. There’s sunscreen at the first aid tents at each rest stop.

Talk about it: Everyone is riding and volunteering for the same reason: To fund cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). And everyone has a story, a cancer connection, a James connection, a reason why they are riding or volunteering … and everyone is happy to share stories. So, talk to people. Lots of people. Say hello. Smile. At the start, at the rest stops, as you ride and at the finishes. You’ll be amazed how friendly people on bikes all riding for the same goal can be. Lots of lasting friendships have started during a Pelotonia ride.

Be safe: Ride in a straight line, stay to the right, pass on the left. Although mirrors aren’t required, I advise getting one and practice using it before the ride. You must wear a helmet … and you are not permitted to wear ear buds (for good reasons). The biggest safety issue I see every year is people riding too far to the left, close to or even across the center line. This makes it hard for people to pass without going across the center line. Which is not recommended. Be predictable and remember there are lots and lots of riders all around you. Another issue is riders stopping suddenly, in the middle of the road. Especially going up some of the steeper hills. Learn the basic cycling hand signals, which are, according to the Pelotonia Handbook: “Left arm straight out to signal a left turn; left arm out and down with your palm to the rear to signal slowing or stopping; and for a right turn, put your right arm straight out or put your left arm out and up.”

Thank everyone: It’s become a Pelotonia tradition to wave to and/or say “thank you” to the scores of law enforcement officials stationed at every intersection. And to thank the amazing and super-friendly volunteers at all the rest stops. The typical rider averages a thank you per mile.

There you go, now you're ready for your first Pelotonia. And remember, Pelotonia is a ride, not a race, so take your time and savor every mile.

Steve Wartenberg is an 8-time rider and will be riding in his 9th Pelotonia in August.